Louis Auchincloss, a Wall Street lawyer from a prominent old New York family who became a durable and prolific chronicler of Manhattan’s old-money elite, died on Tuesday night in Manhattan. He was 92.
His death, at Lenox Hill Hospital, was caused by complications of a stroke, his son Andrew said. Mr. Auchincloss lived on the Upper East Side.
Although he practiced law full time until 1987, Mr. Auchincloss published more than 60 books of fiction, biography and literary criticism in a writing career of more than a half-century. . . .
Admirers compared him to other novelists of society and manners like William Dean Howells, but Mr. Auchincloss’s greatest influence was probably Edith Wharton, whose biography he wrote and with whom he felt a direct connection. His grandmother had summered with Wharton in Newport, R.I.; his parents were friends of Wharton’s lawyers. He almost felt he knew Wharton personally, Mr. Auchincloss once said.
Like Wharton, Mr. Auchincloss was interested in class and morality and in the corrosive effects of money on both. “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs,” Gore Vidal once wrote. “Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives.”
His detractors complained that Mr. Auchincloss’s writing was glib and superficial, or else that his subject matter was too dated to be of much interest. Writing in The New York Times in 1984, Michiko Kakutani said that while Mr. Auchincloss “is adept enough at portraying the effects of a rarefied milieu on character, his narrative lacks a necessary density and texture.”
“Like the shiny parquet floors of their apartment houses,” she added, “Mr. Auchincloss’s people are just a little too finely polished, a little too tidily assembled.”
The author Bruce Bawer, writing in The New York Times Book Review, said that Mr. Auchincloss had the bad luck to live “in a time when the protagonists of literary fiction tend to be middle- or lower-class.”
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“Class prejudice” was Mr. Auchincloss’s response to his critics. “That business of objecting to the subject material or the people that an author writes about is purely class prejudice,” he said in an interview in 1997, “and you will note that it always disappears with an author’s death. Nobody holds it against Henry James or Edith Wharton or Thackeray or Marcel Proust.”
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Even near the end of his life, Mr. Auchincloss said the influence of his class had not waned. “I grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in a nouveau riche world, where money was spent wildly, and I’m still living in one!,” he told The Financial Times in 2007. “The private schools are all jammed with long waiting lists; the clubs — all the old clubs — are jammed with long waiting lists today; the harbors are clogged with yachts; there has never been a more material society than the one we live in today.”